Down in Texas, citizens who say they “were shocked by what the discovered” while volunteering as poll watchers in 2009 have created a group called True the Vote to preserve the integrity of U.S. elections.
“We watched,” the group says on its website, “as election officials often failed to check voters’ identification, disregarded polling documentation requirements, and routinely accompanied voters to the voting booth and told them who they should or should not vote for, going so far as to fully prepare the ballot, make all selections, and instruct the voter to ‘Press here to vote.’”
It’s a shocking account, one that may be repeated far too often in U.S. elections. For all the attention given the idea of electoral integrity in the years following 2000’s “long count” presidential contest, the process is still in need of major reform. In the rush to make it easier to vote, the politicians who have worked to change the process have also made it too easy to cheat. [Check out a roundup of this month's best political cartoons.]
This is a problem for all of us. The presence of even one falsified ballot disenfranchises everyone.
The current problem began in earnest with the passage of the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, commonly referred to as “Motor Voter.” Under Motor Voter, Congress required state motor vehicle and welfare offices and other government agencies take up the task of registering voters while forcing the states to allow registration by mail.
Motor Voter made it easier to register fraudulently while the provisions requiring states to clean their voter rolls, which were adopted to address concerns about fraud, often go unenforced. As the Wall Street Journal’s John Fund reports in his book Stealing Elections, the number of registered voters in Philadelphia increased by 24 percent between 1995 and 2004 while the city’s population shrank by 13 percent. On its face alone, the numbers suggest something underhanded is afoot, yet, so far, nothing has been done about it.
The idea that America cannot count on its electoral process to reveal the truth about voter preferences is a scandal that needs to be addressed quickly and decisively. True the Vote has put forward a set of suggested reforms that are worthy of consideration, a list that starts with the notion that a photo ID and proof of citizenship should be required in the polling place before a voter may cast a ballot. [See who donates the most money to your member of Congress.]
Beyond that, the group encourages the idea that so-called “same day” registration be abolished and that the registration period should end at least one week before an election.
But that only gets at part of the problem. There is still the matter of the fraudulent registrations already on the books, something True the Vote says could be handled by making states “clean up their registration lists by comparing them with lists of citizens who have died, been convicted of felonies, or relocated.” At the same time, “state election officials should be permitted to set up centralized national lists of such individuals,” while “federal immigration lists of non-citizens should be made available to the states.” [Are you on the list? Explore the White House visitor log.]
There are other proposed changes to state election laws out there as well that should help clean up the process. One idea that is of particular interest is to make voters affirmatively reregister to vote after a fixed period of time, much in the same way people with drivers’ licenses are required periodically to renew them.
Other ideas include limiting the availability of absentee ballots to those unable to vote in person because of illness, disability, travel, or because they are a member of the U.S. military stationed overseas or out of state. And expanding the information required on provisional ballots in order to affirm that the person using one is actually registered.
True the Vote and others also suggest there is a need to expand access to polling places on Election Day so that poll watchers not affiliated with a political party or individual campaign can be present to monitor what is going on.
Elections are too important to be casual about the possibility of voter fraud. All over the world, people are fighting and dying to win a right that we here in America too often take for granted. The “secret” ballot is a sacred American ideal. We need to make sure the “secure” ballot is elevated to the same status.